When one of my book clubs chose this as the selection for May, I was excited. This book had been on my “to be read” list for quite some time. I had adored The Secret Life of Bees, and this book featured a coastal island and hinted of Celtic spirituality. What was not to love?
I wanted to love it. I did.
But I didn’t love it after all. In fact, I found the first third of the book a bit of a slog to get through, and I was frustrated with it. After reading 37% of it, I wrote, “I don’t think I’m liking this book.” And no one was more surprised by that than me.
One of the dangers of using a first-person narrator is that there is potential for too much “tell” and not enough “show.” That was certainly the case here. The narrator and protagonist, Jessie, tends to simply state things, and the author expects the reader to just accept it without any further elaboration. So when Jessie tells us she has fallen head over heels — first in lust and then in love — we are just supposed to believe her, even if it took about a nanosecond to happen and seemingly with no real cause.
We are also supposed to believe that Jessie’s real life has left her feeling unfulfilled, and that her psychiatrist husband has been neglecting her. Yet Jessie has a lovely life, including an art studio in the turret of her home, and her husband is more than eager to come be with her and help with a difficult family situation. It is Jessie herself who turns him away.
I wanted to like Jessie as much as I wanted to like this book. Instead, I found her to be incredibly self-absorbed, and unwilling to take responsibility for her own life. The only character with whom I truly did sympathize was her husband, and the one moment I got teary-eyed was reading a letter from an intermittent monk.
That’s not to say that the book was all bad. I thoroughly enjoyed the three older women characters, particularly their friendship, connection, and shared memories. These characters were very dimensional, interesting, and downright funny at times. I could have easily read a prequel to this book about these ladies when they were back in their youth.
Sometimes I read a book and wonder if the author wishes she could do it over again. The Mermaid Chair is a perfect example. All of the elements were there, and the story itself was interesting. It was the execution that was lacking. Crucial parts were simply not written well, and that made it difficult to fully engage as a reader.
I rated this book three stars on Goodreads because it was better than it was bad. But I was disappointed.